Updated at 23:33,12-02-2020

Belarus has become contraband zone


The goods, banned in Russia, follow transit routes through the country’s territory.

This was claimed by a former political prisoner and the charter97.org web-site’s chief editor Natalia Radzina in an interview to Polskie Radio.

- We welcome the listeners of the Belarusian service of the Polish radio as well as the watchers of our multimedia platform. Our guest in the Warsaw studio is Natalia Radzina, charter97.org web-site’s chief editor. Hello, Natalia!

- Hello!

- Today I read interesting information on your web-site: “Scientists have found the part of the brain responsible for conscience”. Who of the Belarusian politicians, do you think, lack this part?

- The dictator and Belarus’ main oligarch Lukashenka hardly has conscience. We cannot be speaking of conscience in this case.

- What about the opposition?

- I would not want to make an assessment of the opposition. You know, when the opposition comes to power, then we will criticize them, but in the conditions of a dictatorship I would not publicly assess the opposition from this point of view. Although, there are different people there too.

- When you enter your web-site and open, say, some article, there is a PayPal link. Doesn’t the Charter have funds for functioning?

- Unfortunately, we lack funds today. We are very grateful to those international partners that we have. We are very grateful to Poland for the assistance they provide to the Charter’97 web-site. But, unfortunately, the funds that we get today are not enough for a whole year.

- Does this mean that in, say, Europe, or the western world in general there is less interest in Belarus.

- It is true. I would say that throughout these whole years, all the 20 years of the Lukashenka dictatorship the West has not had a strategy toward Belarus. That is why, of course, the interest to our country has always been insufficient. When there is no strategy, there is no desire to change anything. That is why today, with the Russia-Ukraine war on the forefront, interest to Belarus has practically vanished. Today the Western bureaucrats, in principle, have given Belarus to Russia and there is no interest in changing anything. Although, it seems to me that it is absolute nonsense. One must clearly understand that without changes in Belarus, without the democratization of our country there will be no stability in Ukraine. It is absolutely clear that today Lukashenka is Putin’s main ally.

- It seems to me that now Europe is paying attention precisely to Ukraine and Russia. It is paradoxical that in this conflict Europe-Russia-Ukraine Belarus even gains economically.

- It is not Belarus that gains, it is exclusively Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who uses this moment like he once used the Russia-Georgia war, by receiving dividends and loans from the West after it. Although, in reality this gave Belarus nothing apart from increased repressions and additional money coming to the regime.

Today Lukashenka is trying to pursue the very same policy, although to believe that is genuine is absolute folly. Russian troops are deployed in the territory of Belarus, as well as offensive artillery units. We can see that Lukashenka votes in the UN for recognizing Crimea as the territory of Russia. Today he is just trying to receive some benefits for himself from the Russia-Ukraine war.

- But in the economic sense Belarus does gain, as well as the population of Belarus, because Russia has banned foodstuff shipments from Europe. Belarusian enterprises will work for the Russian market.

- You know that the latest information on Polish apples is that Russia has banned Polish apples, while the Belarusian authorities have confirmed that a million tons of Polish apples pass through the territory of Belarus annually. It is clear that the very same products will go through the territory of Belarus today, which are allegedly banned. These are grey schemes, which the Lukashenka regime uses to make profits. Belarus has turned into such a contraband zone, through which huge echelons of goods go from Ukraine to Russia, from Russia to Ukraine, from European countries to Russia. These all are grey schemes, which make richer not the Belarusian people, but exclusively the Lukashenka regime and institutions under its control.

- You say about different grey schemes, you mentioned Lukashenka’s other sins, his accounts in Western banks etc. But no one of the opposition has presented evidence. Why is it so? Are people afraid there is no evidence?

- First of all, in order to find such legal evidence, huge money is needed, because the service of law firm and detective agencies are required.

Secondly, why do you say there is no evidence? The evidences that Lukashenka murders his political opponents have been there since 2001. It has been recognized by the international community that the Lukashenka regime is criminal. The people, who are in power today, are involved in abductions and killings of people. What else do you need in terms of evidence? Again, the “solvents and thinners” schemes, when Russian oil products were sold from Belarus to the West free of duty, have also been proven.

- Very often in the conversation you use the name Lukashenka. What emotions, what feeling do you have for him?

- You know, I would say hate, because I feel very sorry for the people, who are no longer with us, who were abducted and killed. Aleh Biabienin, the founder of the Charter’97 web-site, was hanged before the 2010 presidential elections. But apart from that there is the feeling of pity, because to me he is a petty man, who has grabbed onto power and won’t let go. It is obvious that he is defective.

- As to Biabienin, are there proofs? I know, it is unpleasant to speak of a person, who is no longer with us, but there was a version that it could have been depression.

- This is the version of the Belarusian KGB and its agents. There are proofs, there are witnesses, who saw Aleh’s body right after it was found, and who say that there were traces of beatings on his body. The way the investigation was held (which rather was not), the way the authorities hid all these facts and refused to investigate the version that the journalist’s death was related to his professional activities, tell that Aleh was actually murdered. I have no doubts about that.

- Since we are speaking sincerely, I would want to touch upon various topic, including the painful ones. Why Biabienin, but no one else of the opposition activists or Chrater’s journalists?

- By killing Aleh Biabienin the authorities reached two goals. First of them was to threaten journalists, including the Charter’97 web-site, which had always criticized the Lukashenka regime in a tough and principled manner. Second was that Aleh had agreed to become one of the managers of Andrei Sannikov’s electoral campaign. Naturally, when a person gets killed from a team of an opposition politician, it demoralizes the people, who would want to join this candidate’s campaign.

- You mentioned the agents of Belarusian secret services. In your opinion, are there many of such agents among the Belarusian opposition?

- I think there were many such agents among the activists of the Polish Solidarity too. Under any dictatorship the authorities have their agents within opposition organizations.

- I will not ask for names, but do you suspect certain people?

- I do, but I prefer to keep my considerations to myself. There is always the risk to accuse someone not guilty.

- Do you consider yourself a part of the Belarusian opposition?

- Of course.

- Say, do you think objective journalism exists?

- You know, under the conditions of a dictatorship it is hard to speak of independent journalism. Today the authorities have put us in such a situation, when journalists get intimidated, killed, thrown in prisons under the charges of, like to was my case for example, “organizing mass disturbances” under the article that foresees up to 15 years in prison. Today we have turned into freedom fighters. We are trying to win back our right to work as journalists, tell people the truth and give people the information on what is going on in the country.

- I heard the phrase I am about to say now from a Belarusian commentator: “There are two propaganda centers in Belarus – Soviet Belorussia and Charter’97”. Can we say there is a certain part of the truth in there?

- Maybe there is. I will be glad if the Charter alone is able to oppose the huge propaganda machine. So far, unfortunately, we are working practically alone. Because playing pseudo-independent journalism under the conditions of a dictatorship leads to playing for the authorities. One must understand that the authorities have the whole propaganda machine on their side. There is a huge number of newspapers, all the television channels, a large number of radio stations. We are being destroyed today, which is why we must oppose this.

- What Belarusian politician among the authorities could you cooperate with, had the situation changed? I hope we will not ruin anyone’s career.

- I am ready to cooperate with any adequate people, for whom homeland interests are above the personal ones.

- Any names?

- I will not name and set these people up.

- Natalia, tell me, please, do you have time for personal life? You are perceived as a fighter for rights, for democracy and freedom, but you are still a woman.

- It is hard to find time, but I am learning.

- What emotions, what feelings prevailed, when you were under arrest?

- First of all, the most I was worried that the web-site would not be working. It worried me much more than the fact that I was in prison.

- Was there a fear?

- Like with any normal person, there was a fear. There was a great fear for the parents. I was worried about how they would take it. It is fearful, when you are expecting some decision regarding your fate: will they press charges or not. When in 10 days I was faced with the charges under an article, whish foresaw up to 15 years in prison, I absolutely calmed down. I realized that I should not expect anything, just accept it that you will go to prison and imagine, how you will arrange your life there, how you will spend these years there. And when you understand that you may go to prison – you get very hard to break. You live in a completely different state, a different dimension.

- Also I wanted to ask you this: why did Roskomnadzor bother you, what for?

- Regarding that I made a joke: “Deprive me of the Russian citizenship, finally”. How can the Charter’97 web-site submit to some Russian laws?

- At the meetings with Western politicians or functionaries you speak of what you just told me. How do they react? Do they nod along and do nothing?

- Unfortunately, we cannot see any concrete actions today. There are also different people there. There are people, who are genuinely worried, concerned over the situation in our country. There are people, who are simply officials saying “Yes, yes, yes…”, taking it to consideration, ticking it off and forgetting in half an hour. But I hope that there will be more people, who really want changes to take place in Belarus.

- The last question. I would like to finish on an optimistic note. When you find spare time, what do you do? What is your hobby? I think, our listeners and viewer will be interested to know.

- I read books, watch movies.

- What do you like to cook?

- Honestly, there is no time for cooking, but recently I started enjoying it. I like to experiment. I like to take something from different cuisines and engage in a sort of culinary art.

- Natalia Radzina, the chief editor of the Charter’97 portal, was the guest in our Warsaw studio. Many thanks for the meeting. Thank you, dear listeners and viewer. All the best!

- Good bye.